Trappers need to exercise caution and good judgment
The dog-proof trap wave has taken some of the shine off the bucket craze, but it’s still a fact that a baited bucket in the right location, guarded with a #160 or #220 trap, is an extremely effective set for raccoons, and in some instances, for bobcats as well.
My home state of Arkansas was once one of those more restrictive places, but about 12 or 15 years ago, the law changed a little. Now we can use bodygrip traps with up to a 6-inch spread on land — up to the 160 size, in other words. This one simple change has allowed many Arkansas trappers to become much more efficient at catching raccoons, and it’s been a positive thing, with so few problems related to non-target catches they scarcely rate a mention.
Still, there has been the isolated problem here and there. Most of them are the result of poor judgement on the part of the trapper. Using a bait that’s attractive to dogs or cats, for example, or making sets where domestic animals are likely to travel.
Of course, using large bodygrip traps on dry land isn’t the only trapline scenario where good judgement is called for. That should be a part of your thought process each and every time you make a set, whether it’s a raccoon bucket, a dirthole on a farm lane, a beaver snare along a highway right-of-way or a muskrat set in a public place where tame ducks and geese are plentiful.
Case in point: two guys I know were asked by the manager of a park if they could catch some problem muskrats out of a spring-fed pond. The pond was the centerpiece of the park, and the muskrats were undermining the shoreline so badly that the asphalt walkway surrounding the pond was caving in.
The pond also had a large resident population of ducks and geese, and of course, the manager didn’t want them caught. Foothold traps were out of the question, and considering that most of the ’rat runs and den entrances were no more than 6 to 8 inches deep, #110s weren’t too safe, either. There was also the fact that the park had a lot of human visitors, and it wouldn’t be good for them to see muskrats in traps of either type.
So my buddies cobbled together a dozen funnel-type cage traps out of fence wire, and every day at sundown, they set the traps in runs and pulled them at daylight the next morning. In a few days, they’d caught more than 100 muskrats from the 10-acre pond and solved the muskrat problem without catching a single duck or getting spotted by a single park visitor.
The point is that if your state or province allows you a generous range of options — or even if they don’t, for that matter — it’s imperative that you exercise the utmost caution and judgement when you make your sets. Public sentiment, and therefore public support, depends on it. Just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a smart thing to do. I can set buckets all I want to on public road rights-of-way in my home state, in full view of passing traffic, if I want, so every soccer mom can see my catch laying there … but it sure would be unwise, even if the theft factor wasn’t in play.
Most trappers make the effort to use good judgement and restraint when making sets. Some trappers, through ignorance or indifference, don’t. My take on it is that responsible trappers shouldn’t be penalized by the possible actions of irresponsible trappers. That’s what game laws are for — to punish the guilty, not to repress the innocent.
But in order for that to happen, we have to act responsibly. There’s the rub.
Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark., is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website at www.treblehookunlimited.com.